Global Briefs ~ Volunteer for a Week on an Organic Farm and much more . . .

 

Growing Idea
Volunteer for a Week on an Organic Farm

The nonprofit Organic Volunteers (www.GrowFood.org) hooks up volunteers ages 16 to 65 with an organic farm experience at 1,100 participating farms now dotting every U.S. state and Latin American country. The organization is the brainchild of Ethan Schaffer and Sarita Role of Washington State. The initiative grew from their own stints with Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farming (wwoof.com), which pairs volunteers with farms in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and 25 other countries.

“We’ve been inspired by so many people working to create a better model, a better world,” says Schaffer. “There’s a general feeling that something is wrong with our food system. Volunteering on an organic farm is a concrete way to do something positive.”

The hands-on help supports organic farmers and renders valuable experience. It often motivates people to start their own farms and gardens.

Back to Basics
Organic Farming Can Solve World Hunger

The surprising conclusion of a study recently published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems shows that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as chemical-based conventional farming in developed and developing countries. In fact, study models indicate that “organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.” Results came from analysis of 293 previous studies on organic yields.

“My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture,” says the study’s lead author Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Denmark researchers’ findings at the University of Aarhus concur. Their report, independently presented to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization earlier this year, concludes that if farmers in poverty-stricken areas switched to organic production to feed their own families and local markets, hunger rates there would drop. One example is Cuba’s current system of private gardens, which has long supplied its citizens with 50 percent of their produce.

Danish study head Niels Halberg highlights sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia as potential beneficiaries of organic farming. He characterizes it as “food security” for impoverished peoples.

Gulp
Back to Mystery Meat

Chef Greg Christian, founder of the Organic School Project and owner of a Chicago catering business, has devoted half his time and half his salary for the past three years trying to make it possible for the city’s students to eat better. It’s been an uphill battle against government, agribusiness and even the kids. Now the Chicago Tribune reports that this valiant pioneer has had to pull his pilot organic-lunch project at Louisa May Alcott Elementary after district officials balked at plans to expand the program to more schools. 

At issue are the district’s long-standing prepackaged-food contracts and labor-union rules. Policies prevent volunteers from helping to prepare the more labor-intensive organic lunches alongside paid cafeteria workers. Food prices too were an issue—about $2.32 for an organic meal compared with 55 cents for a traditional school lunch, not including labor and overhead.

Christian’s was the first and only organic meal program in the nation’s third-largest school district. Other precedents exist. Several districts in California and Washington State are making a go of it, as are pilot programs at schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Bright Idea
Lighting the Way

Momentum is building in the U.S. Congress for a bill that would require Americans to forsake regular incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescents (CFL) and other, more efficient lighting technologies. The bill would require household bulbs to be three times more efficient by 2020 and phase out 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt incandescent light bulbs by 2014.

Apparently incandescents convert only about 5 percent of the electricity they consume into visible light. Proponents say that installing more-efficient alternatives could save U.S. consumers some $6 billion a year in energy costs and effectively cancel demand for 80 coal-fired power plants. The United States is the largest single market for incandescent light bulbs, accounting for nearly a third of the global market.

Meanwhile, the government’s Energy Star “Change a Light” voluntary pledge campaign continues to encourage Americans to make the switch. They calculate that if every household changed one bulb to a CFL, we’d collectively save “5.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, or $526 million a year in electric expenses.” CFLs use two-thirds less energy, emit 70 percent less heat and last up to 10 times longer than standard incandescent light bulbs. And they now come in sizes and shapes to fit almost any fixture.

Take the pledge at EnergyStar.gov; search “Change a Light Pledge.”

Youth in Action
Focusing the Nation on World Solutions

Focus the Nation is the organizing force sparking teams of faculty and students at 1,000 U.S. colleges, universities and K-12 schools now collaboratively engaged in a nationwide project to address global warming solutions for America. Their first priority is to mobilize enough citizens to get national legislation on climate change “at the forefront of American politics.”

Initial efforts will culminate January 31, 2008, at simultaneous symposia held at community campuses, places of worship, businesses and civic organizations. Here students will invite local, state and federal political leaders to participate in the discussion. Each school will vote on its top five national priorities for global warming action to produce a campus-endorsed policy agenda for the 2008 elections.

In a post-peak-oil, post-water-shortage world, “a second world is possible,” maintains project director Eban Goodstein. It can be one in which “we rewire the planet with clean energy solutions, create millions of jobs and lay the foundation for a just and sustainable society.”

For information, visit www.FocusTheNation.org.

Not Nice
Inuit Baby Girl Births Double their Boy Counterparts

Twice as many girls than boys are being born in Arctic communities across Greenland and northern Russia, where Inuit townspeople are known to have high levels of human-made chemicals in their blood. Many are being born premature. And baby boys tend to be small.
 Experts explain that suspect hormone-mimicking chemicals originate in industrialized countries, travel to the Arctic by wind and water and rise up the food chain to reach high levels in traditional Inuit fare of seals, whales and polar bears. Greenland resident Aqqaluk Lynge avers that “This has become a critical question of people’s survival, but few governments want to talk about the problem.”

Recent research also has shown a gender ratio favoring girls for the first time in the United States and Japan. We’re all for girl power, but not this way.

Sources: The Guardian, The Independent, The Times.

Cool Discounts
Green Mortgages Reward Energy Efficiency

Green mortgages, considered difficult and daring when first introduced in the late 1970s, have become the darling of major national lenders. Bank of America, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase are now awarding bigger loans and discounts to homebuyers making energy-efficiency improvements to their houses. They’re following the lead of some small lenders who got in the spirit of things after Fannie Mae made green loan paperwork compatible with standard industry software in 2003.

The nut of the idea is that borrowers can afford bigger mortgage payments if they’re saving money on their energy bills. The National Association of Realtors notes that an energy-efficient home can save an owner one third to one half on home energy costs. For example, The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Schaefer Muñoz quotes Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Energy Programs Consortium, as figuring that the $600 a homeowner is set to save through energy-efficient utilities in his new home would allow him to borrow an extra $10,000 in a 30-year mortgage.

The “green mortgages” option also encourages builders to construct more eco-friendly houses, since they know favorable mortgage products will entice people to buy them. Surging housing prices and energy costs are expected to spark greater demand for green housing.

Never Too Late
Peace Corps Welcomes Middlescents

With American volunteering at an all-time high, the Peace Corps is reaching out to midlife and older candidates who are open to new experiences. Currently nearly 400 of the agency’s 7,800 volunteers are 50 and older. The oldest is 81.

“It is a way to enhance and deepen and broaden what the Peace Corps is all about,” Director Ronald Tschetter told The Christian Science Monitor. “Those who are 50-plus bring 30 to 35 years of expertise and knowledge to the opportunity to serve.” He emphasizes that this new crew is an adjunct to younger volunteers, not a replacement for them.

Older generations currently account for 5 percent of the volunteers. Officials want this to become15 percent in two years. Typical overseas assignments involve education, youth outreach, community development, business development, agriculture, health or technology.

Widow Carrie Parsi terms the Peace Corps “a real blockbuster of an experience.”

“You get a lot more done because they respect age,” says empty-nester Diane Gallagher. “They looked at my wrinkles and said, ‘She’s got to be very wise. She’s got a lot of them.’” Still, she says, “It’s really a big commitment. You’re giving up your way of life, but you’re learning about another way of life.” And, as retiree Jim Wilson noted after his kids graduated college, “It was time for Dad to hit the road.”

“Older people say, ‘I didn’t know you wanted me,’” concludes Tschetter. “We want you dearly.”
 
For information visit www.PeaceCorps.gov/50plus.

Savvy Investment
Oh for a Successful Flush

Lack of sanitation is recognized as a huge problem affecting the health of millions worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of all sickness in the world can be attributed to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation. So the United Nations has declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation, and none too soon.

According to our sources, in 38 African countries more children under the age of 5 die from diarrhea than HIV/AIDS. A full third of the global population has no access to a toilet.

Tackling the sanitation problem can be a good investment. According to the United Nations, for every $1 spent on improving sanitation we would save between $3 and $34 in the costs of education, health and socioeconomic development.

Sources: Yahoo! News, www.Grist.org

Humane Habitat
A Granddaddy of a Living Roof

Sustainable public architecture is on its way. And the San Francisco Department of the Environment is in the vanguard with 10 pilot projects, including a 197,000-square-foot living roof atop the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

“Living roofs have been popular in Europe for 40 years, but they’re a relatively new phenomenon in the United States,” explains Stephanie Stone, an associate director with the Academy. “We’re hoping that the beauty and efficiency of our project will inspire others to follow in our footsteps.”

When it opens in 2008 the museum likely will be the largest public Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum building in the world. Only eight other U.S. buildings have achieved this top rating by the LEED consortium.

Expected to be one of the world’s leading scientific and cultural institutions, it will provide a suitable home for a rooftop habitat of 1.7 million native plants seated in 50,000 biodegradable coconut husk trays. Butterflies and pollinating bees are among the species that will benefit from this new link in the West Coast wildlife corridor.

Seven layers of materials are designed to create insulation, prevent runoff, retain soil, allow for drainage and promote healthy plant growth. The living roof will absorb up to 2 million gallons of water a year, about 98 percent of falling stormwater. It also will cut the urban heat island effect, staying an average 40 degrees cooler than a standard roof. Total cost is just $17 a square foot.

Source: www.CalAcademy.org

Sticker Value
Consumer Push for Fuel Economy

Effective September 1, 2008 model cars and trucks will be sporting the new EPA fuel economy window stickers. Said to reflect a more accurate mileage rating, the labels show not only city and highway miles-per-gallon (mpg), but the expected ranges for most drivers.

The numbers are based on new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, which this year take into account faster speeds and acceleration, air conditioner use and colder outside temperatures. The EPA notes that actual mileage may vary for different individuals.

For more, visit www.FuelEconomy.gov.

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